Hoppers take Manhattan: Sri Lankan sans ferry.

It was with great happiness that I recently noted a chowhound post claiming a Sri Lankan restaurant had opened on 1st Ave. at 6th St.  Many of you have no doubt wandered by the spillover from 6th St.’s “Curry Row” and been harassed by what possibly are the only Italian-tourist-restaurant-style “patron wranglers” in America – would this obnoxious spot yield cuisine good enough to brave the flashing lights and signs?  My girlfriend and I went on a mission to find out.

Sigiri is one of the upstairs restaurants on this densely-filled block, and our window table afforded us a fine view of 1st Ave. and the projects across the street.  Unsurprisingly for a new ethnic restaurant, we were one of two tables filled at 6:45 on a Tuesday.  With so few customers (and the other group being the worst mother ever and her daughter, who my girlfriend and I couldn’t stop feeling sorry for), the newly-painted dining room felt a little empty – no music, even, save for the occasional blast from a passing bass-mobile.  The cheery colors and Pier 1 table settings won us over, though, even before the friendly waitress came to take our order (who doesn’t love a restaurant that feels like your mother could have decorated it?).

While we were pondering our order, the waitress had brought us a small dish of what must be the oddest appetizer I’ve yet been served in an ethnic restaurant – Chex Mix.  I can’t tell if it was right from the bag or not, but I’m encouraged to say that it wasn’t, given several of the satisfyingly crunchy ingredients would seem out of place in a Chex Mix bag, and that the spice level was relatively high.  Can’t say for sure, though – it’s been a few years since my last munchie run to the Cumberland Farms.

I find hoppers one of the most fascinating parts of Sri Lankan cuisine, and I wasn’t about to pass up an order of four ($8).  For those who aren’t aware, hoppers are sort of like a thin, somewhat crispy bowl-shaped pancake, into which the various dishes can be loaded.  There’s another kind of hopper called a “string” hopper, which is a sort of pressed rice vermicelli patty that looks like a refugee from Vietnamese cooking, but the similar name does not reflect any taste similarities.  The hoppers proper look kind of like a boule crossed with a crepe, if that makes sense.  One hopper in our order had an egg over easy deposited into the middle, which was aesthetically pleasing as well as tasty.

We ordered a fish curry ($8) as the primary dish to load into the hoppers.  The fish seemed like frozen swordfish, and wasn’t particularly thrilling (nor was it bad, like Mina’s fish), but the curry was excellent.  We had ordered it spicy, and it came to us with a slightly redder mustard color.  One thing that hoppers aren’t good for: sopping up the curry sauce.  I would probably order a dhal or chicken curry next time, and make sure to get some kind of bread to wipe the bowl clean.

Our other dish was Chicken Lamprais ($12), a kind of rice casserole served in folded banana leaves.  The rice is sweetened, seemingly, and added to it were a boiled egg that looked like it had been deep fried somehow, a kind of “ash” plantains (sweet and delicious), chicken pieces (on the bone, so watch out!) and something called a fish cutlet, which I wouldn’t be surprised to find was some part of the fish the western palate isn’t used to (it was fishy, but the texture was considerably different than your usual fish filet).  Also included were a kind of fishy flakes – I didn’t discover these until I was scraping the last remains of the dish from the leaves on to my plate (I think they were huddled in a corner), and I’m rather glad I didn’t – not a very good texture or flavor.

For dessert, we tried the Watalappan ($3), which is a flan-like egg and coconut custard made with the unrefined palm sugar known as “jaggery” – our iteration also contained cashews.  As with the Tapajos River Steakhouse flan, the custard had the consistency of a real egg dish – a way of falling apart into shards that custard-from-a-box just won’t do.  It was quite delicious.  I had also tried the Sri Lankan iced coffee with dinner, which we were told contained a bit of rum.  It was delicious, as well, presented in a champagne flute-like glass and looking good enough to elicit jealousy from the afore-mentioned worst mother ever, at least until she discovered it was coffee-based (I’m glad she didn’t find out there was rum involved).  The rum certainly didn’t overpower the coffee – it just lent it a nice flavor.  I enjoyed it more than the average over-sugared Thai iced tea, for sure.

It seems to be a trend for NYC’s south Asian restaurants, after years of flying the Indian flag, to declare their true nationalities – witness Spicy Mina’s emergence and the diversification of Curry Row from “Indian” to “Bangladeshi.”  Sigiri offers hope that Manhattanites and borough-phobes will share in this revolution – much as the introduction of different regional Chinese cuisines has enriched the city’s understanding of the depth and complexity of that country’s myriad culinary cultures.  Given that most of this city’s other Sri Lankan restaurants are located in Staten Island (where the proprietor of Sigiri and his family live), it’s particularly great that this cuisine has made it to a location where many more people will encounter it.

My girlfriend and I, despite some unorthodox menu choices, and prices that I would consider somewhat high, enjoyed our meal immensely.  I’m encouraged that the prices for take-out and delivery seem to be somewhat lower (though you can’t get hoppers) – hopefully Sigiri will stick around.


Filed under NYC

7 responses to “Hoppers take Manhattan: Sri Lankan sans ferry.

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you Mike King for your review on Sigiri Sri Lanka Restaurant. We appreciate your comments. Hope to see you there soon.Tanya DeSilvaPartner, Sigiri Sri Lanka

  2. Sam

    Very good review. I’m planning to go there tomorrow. Hope to try same dishes you tried – but with Dhal curry – not fish curry as you suggested 🙂

  3. Nancy

    Thanks to your review I’m planning on visiting next weekend can’t wait to try the hoppers!

  4. neenerneener

    I love this restaurant and the hot, efficient waiter who served us.

  5. Anonymous

    hey mike,
    why not take a trip to Sri Lanka and get a taste of real hoppers? It's outrageous what they serve. Sigiri hoppers are a rip off. less coconut milk is used. there's no middle or the middle is empty so there's nothing much to eat. if chef pubilis visits sigiri, it will get F grade. the fish is awful. you can separate the fish from the curry. it's not fresh either. it should not be. that's not how it's meant to be, as sigiri would say. same story with strings. not worth the money you pay. coconut chutney is so tasteless. i think it's used coconut. downgraded food. the woman is impolite, impatient and rude.

  6. Sunka

    You cant take comments that are posted by people who wish to remain anonymous seriously. I am Srilankan and have been to Sigiri many times and find the food and service to be good. Of course you are never going to find Sri Lankan food in NY to be just as good as it is back home, but the “anonymous” person bashing the restaurant was was just a mean jealous saboteur. Visit Sigiri and see for yourself.

  7. Anonymous

    Sigri has the best food in the world. I got an upset stomach the next day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s